By now you’ve seen the photo: There’s second baseman Clint Barmes of the Colorado Rockies on the ground, and there’s the baseball, also on the ground. Meaning: The sprawling catch-and-double-play that ended Sunday’s Rockies-Cardinals game probably wasn’t a catch. The tying run should have scored and the Cards should have had the go-ahead run at third with one out, and had they lost that day the Rockies would lead the Braves by two games as opposed to three.
If you’re expecting me to author a screed against the umps for blowing it … well, you’ll be disappointed. It was a wild play, and even TV replays didn’t capture what photos, which came to light only a day later, seemed to catch. (Pun intended.) Umpires are human. They make mistakes. And besides, I still remember a key game in the Braves’ stretch drive of 1991 ending in the Astrodome on a called third strike by Alejandro Pena that hasn’t to this day clipped a sliver of home plate.
But because this is Colorado the Braves are tracking, it reminded me of another Colorado team — one called the Buffaloes and based in Boulder — that benefited from another missed call almost two decades ago at the expense of another Atlanta-based team, one nicknamed the Yellow Jackets.
On Oct. 6, 1990, Colorado quarterback Charles Johnson scored on the game’s final play to beat Missouri. Only the game’s final play was a Buffalo bonus. The officials had lost track of downs, and technically Colorado scored on fifth-and-goal. This became a bigger deal as the season unfolded and the Buffaloes ascended to No. 1 in the polls.
It became a massive deal locally because Georgia Tech finished its season 11-0-1 to Colorado’s 11-1-1 but finished No. 2 in the Associated Press poll. The Jackets were awarded the UPI national championship by one vote over the Buffaloes, but the Fifth Down rankles fans of the Institute still. (As does the clipping call that wiped out Rocket Ismail’s punt return that would have given Notre Dame the lead over Colorado in the Orange Bowl.)
Some suggested in the aftermath that Colorado should forfeit the Missouri victory, given that it won on a play that shouldn’t have been. In 1940 Cornell had scored on a similar extra down to beat Dartmouth. Being all gentlemanly — it was the Ivy League — Cornell offered to forfeit. The game is listed as a 3-0 Dartmouth victory.
The Buffaloes made no such gesture. The Rockies haven’t, either. And I wouldn’t hold my breath in anticipation of one.